Tuesday, March 28, 2006

For Ethiopian Jews, the problem was the day after

Michael Gawenda:

ON THE front page of the weekend edition of the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz there is a large political advertisement with the heading "Sympathy Is Not Enough". What is most striking is the ad's photograph of a smiling and beautiful young black woman with long dreadlocks.

She is the face of the political campaign of Atid Echad (One Future), a small party that is unlikely to win a single seat in tomorrow's election, but which is significant nevertheless, as it is the first political party representing the Ethiopian community.

The party is asking Israel to show its support for a people who were once an example of what Israel and Zionism was partly about - rescuing Jews in distress and bringing them home.

The last paragraph of the advertisement reads in part: "We want to fight against racism and discrimination so that all children will grow up in a society with equal opportunity and fairness."

There are images that are unforgettable. The pictures of African villagers - those who traced their Jewish heritage back to Solomon, kept to their Jewish traditions despite being cut off from Jewish life for centuries, and who dreamt of one day being in Jerusalem, then finally arriving in Israel - were joyful images for many people. But that was then.

The 120,000 Ethiopians have had a hard time of it since their arrival in the 1970s and early '80s. Mainly they live clustered on the outskirts of towns in southern Israel, have high unemployment rates, poor housing and schools, and a high crime rate among the young men.

Shula Mola is not standing for election, but she supports Atid Echad even if its chances of success are remote. The chairwoman of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jewry, she is intense and articulate and angry at the indignities suffered by Israeli-Africans.

Even so there is joy and humour and even hope in her voice - something that can often seem in short supply in Israel.

"Our coming was inspiring for everyone," she said. "For us who had dreamt of Jerusalem for eternity, for Jews everywhere and, yes, even for Israel. The problem was the day after. They didn't know how to deal with us. They didn't know anything about us. They knew nothing about Africa and 'African ways'."

Ethiopia: Ethiopian Jew Out to Make History As Israelis Vote

American-Israelis hold two of Ethiopian party's top five slots

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